Red reflections

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Our estimate of a typical affluent person's consumption (figure 18.1) has reached 195 kWh per day. It is indeed true that many people use this much energy, and that many more aspire to such levels of consumption. The average American consumes about 250 kWh per day. If we all raised our standard of consumption to an average American level, the green production stack would definitely be dwarfed by the red consumption stack.

What about the average European and the average Brit? Average European consumption of "primary energy" (which means the energy contained in raw fuels, plus wind and hydroelectricity) is about 125 kWh per day per person. The UK average is also 125 kWh per day per person.

These official averages do not include two energy flows. First, the "embedded energy" in imported stuff (the energy expended in making the stuff) is not included at all. We estimated in Chapter 15 that the embedded energy in imported stuff is at least 40 kWh/d per person. Second, the official estimates of "primary energy consumption" include only industrial energy flows - things like fossil fuels and hydroelectricity - and don't keep track of the natural embedded energy in food: energy that was originally harnessed by photosynthesis.

Another difference between the red stack we slapped together and the national total is that in most of the consumption chapters so far we tended to ignore the energy lost in converting energy from one form to another, and in transporting energy around. For example, the "car" estimate in Part I covered only the energy in the petrol, not the energy used at the oil refinery that makes the petrol, nor the energy used in trundling the oil and petrol from A to B. The national total accounts for all the energy, before any conversion losses. Conversion losses in fact account for about 22% of total national energy consumption. Most of these conversion losses happen at power stations. Losses in the electricity transmission network chuck away 1% of total national energy consumption.

When building our red stack, we tried to imagine how much energy a typical affluent person uses. Has this approach biased our perception of the importance of different activities? Let's look at some official numbers. Figure 18.2 shows the breakdown of energy consumption by end use. The top two categories are transport and heating (hot air and hot water). Those two categories also dominated the red stack in Part I. Good.

Road transport

Petroleum

22.5

Railways

Petroleum

0.4

Water transport

Petroleum

1.0

Aviation

Petroleum

7.4

All modes

Electricity

0.4

All energy used by transport 31.6

Transport 35%

Hot air 26%

Hot water

Ughting, appliances 6%

Process 10%

Other 15%

Figure 18.2. Energy consumption, broken down by end use, according to the Department for Trade and Industry.

Table 18.3. 2006 breakdown of energy consumption by transport mode, in kWh/d per person. Source: Dept. for Transport (2007).

All energy used by transport 31.6

Figure 18.4. Power consumption per capita, versus GDP per capita, in purchasing-power-parity US dollars. Squares show countries having "high human development;" circles, "medium" or "low." Figure 30.1 (p231) shows the same data on logarithmic scales.

Figure 18.4. Power consumption per capita, versus GDP per capita, in purchasing-power-parity US dollars. Squares show countries having "high human development;" circles, "medium" or "low." Figure 30.1 (p231) shows the same data on logarithmic scales.

Let's look more closely at transport. In our red stack, we found that the energy footprints of driving a car 50 km per day and of flying to Cape Town once per year are roughly equal. Table 18.3 shows the relative importances of the different transport modes in the national balance-sheet. In the national averages, aviation is smaller than road transport.

How do Britain's official consumption figures compare with those of other countries? Figure 18.4 shows the power consumptions of lots of countries or regions, versus their gross domestic products (GDPs). There's an evident correlation between power consumption and GDP: the higher a country's GDP (per capita), the more power it consumes per capita. The UK is a fairly typical high-GDP country, surrounded by Germany, France, Japan, Austria, Ireland, Switzerland, and Denmark. The only notable exception to the rule "big GDP implies big power consumption" is Hong Kong. Hong Kong's GDP per capita is about the same as Britain's, but

Hong Kong's power consumption is about 80kWh/d/p.

The message I take from these country comparisons is that the UK is a fairly typical European country, and therefore provides a good case study for asking the question "How can a country with a high quality of life get its energy sustainably?"

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